Curry king set to spice up life at restaurant

CURRY king Charan Gill has saved a waterfront restaurant and leisure centre from closure in his first east coast venture.

The entrepreneur, who has amassed a huge fortune from his Indian restaurants empire in Glasgow, hopes Musselburgh Quayside Restaurant and Leisure Centre will provide the comeback he has been looking for since the multi-million-pound sale of his Harlequin Restaurant Group in 2005.

Mr Gill - who paid an undisclosed seven-figure sum for the building - says he will keep the leisure centre running and provide Indian, Chinese and Italian cuisine at the restaurant after a 300,000 makeover.

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Forty jobs at the centre have been saved after the building was put up for sale by previous owners the Fisherrow and Musselburgh Co-operative Society.

Mr Gill, best known for his Ashoka restaurant chain in the west of Scotland and Spice of Life in Glasgow, said: "It is a fantastic facility. When the opportunity came up I just couldn't turn it down."

He added: "If a suitable buyer hadn't come along, the Co-op may have had to close it down, which would have been such a loss for the community. The building is excellent from the outside, it is just inside that it needs upgrading.

"I want to create a fine-dining restaurant featuring cuisine including Indian, Italian and Chinese, in one of the smaller rooms overlooking the water - and I also want to promote the centre more for events such as weddings. It has three kitchens, so there is so much we could do. I want to keep on doing the same with it, only better."

Mr Gill, who built up his business after arriving in the country from India 30 years ago, said the venture was the start of a comeback and that he plans to expand in the east of Scotland over the next few years. He said: "We have done the west coast in the past - I think it is time to look at opportunities in the east."

However he said he didn't have any firm plans to open a new restaurant in Edinburgh, but said he would keep an eye out for opportunities in the area in the future.

He said: "There are only certain things I would be interested in taking on - they have to be a challenge for me. For now, this new venture is my baby."

Tom Lees, chief executive of the Fisherrow and Musselburgh Co-operative Society, said: "Our board recognised that the ongoing management of the Quayside required the expertise and financial commitment of an operator with a successful track record in that sector.

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"Charan certainly has all the qualities required to build on the Quayside's burgeoning popularity.

"We are delighted with this deal, which safeguards the future of a tremendous facility that benefits greatly the local community and contributes to the local economy by attracting a wide range of weddings, conferences and other functions into Musselburgh."

The leisure centre - which has about 1300 members - and restaurant were built in 1992, but a string of technical problems meant that the Co-operative Society was forced to close the facility's pool for two months and fix leakages, costing it 400,000.

Subsequent court action meant the builder, Mowlem, was made to pay out just 100,000 in compensation as some of the problems did not come to light until more than five years after the centre was built.

The facts

CHARAN GILL'S story is an amazing tale of rising to riches from humble beginnings.

Brought up in the Punjab, in India, Mr Gill moved to Scotland in 1963 at the age of nine.

After a nine-year stint working in Glasgow's shipyards, he helped out part-time at a friend's restaurant .

By the time he was in his 40s, he owned 17 restaurants under his Harlequin Restaurant Group business.

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Mr Gill was once the front-runner to be Holyrood's first non-white MSP in a Glasgow constituency, but failed to make the candidacy shortlist after it emerged he was not a member of the Labour Party.

He was awarded an MBE in 1998 for his outstanding contribution to the food and catering industry.

Last year, he published an autobiography - called Tikka Look At Me Now - and also appeared on the Channel 4 series The Secret Millionaire.